Wed 30-Jun-2004, 4:00 p.m. - I leave the office and follow the now familiar route to Guangxi: bus around to the north side of Hong Kong Island, Star Ferry to Kowloon, TurboJet ferry to Shenzhen Airport, and finally the inevitably delayed domestic flight to Guangxi's capital, Nanning.
11:20 p.m. - "Ladies and gentlemen, we have landed at the airport." This strangely reassuring announcement heralds my arrival in Nanning. I take the airport bus to the city centre, where I check into my old haunt, the conveniently located Phoenix Hotel. This time I get room number 30307. Before retiring for the night, I take a quick taxi ride to the Beida Keyun Zhongxin Bus Station to secure a ticket for tomorrow morning.
Thu 01-Jul-2004 (Hong Kong SAR Establishment Day), 5:30 a.m. - I get up at my usual early hour, check out, have an alfresco breakfast in the adjacent side street, then hop in a taxi to the bus station in time for my 7 a.m. express bus northwest to Tianyang. All passengers are issued with bread and water for the journey. The paper bag containing my bread has the full timetable for all express buses leaving Nanning's Beida Keyun Zhongxin Bus Station printed on it, so I make a point of saving it for future reference.
10:10 a.m. - I disembark at the intersection with highway 323, just a kilometre or two before Tianyang. The confluence, 28.3 kilometres north, is situated in Kunping Township, Tianyang County, Baise Prefecture, in the west of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Tianyang County covers an area of 2,393 square kilometres and has a thriving mango industry. The county population is approximately 330,000, of which 90% belong to the Zhuang ethnic minority.
10:40 a.m. - After a half-hour wait at the intersection, a bus comes along heading north up highway 323 to Yufeng. This will do me, and I hop on board. The entire length of the road is simultaneously undergoing reconstruction, making it a tortuously slow, dusty journey. The sun is belting down relentlessly, and I am sweltering in my window seat which, on the right-hand side of the bus, is in the direct sunlight.
11:45 a.m. - Pop! Ssssss... The outside right rear tyre goes flat. The driver and ticket seller confer, deem it to be a non-critical impediment, and we continue on our way without delay.
12:10 p.m. - I get off at the turnoff to Kunping, with the confluence now 7.45 kilometres northwest. I imagined disembarking into the eager clutches of motorcyclists and/or three-wheeler drivers eager for my custom, but instead find myself at a desolate, dusty intersection with not a soul in sight. The sun is now directly overhead, and it is very very hot. The bus with its flat tyre vanishes into the distance, the dust settles, and I am all alone.
There is no option but to walk. I come to a small village and am able to stock up on bottled water, but unfortunately there are no transport options available, and I continue on foot, absolutely drenched in sweat. The winding dirt road takes me uphill over a range of hills--very heavy going with my full backpack--then down again on the other side. There is no traffic to speak of, save a couple of men on horseback and a peasant leading his bullock.
1:50 p.m. - The encounter with the horsemen turns out to be fortuitous. It comes just as I reach a turnoff, and they are able to confirm that this is indeed the way to the village of Nayan, which I've identified from careful study of the map to be not too far from the confluence. I anticipated finding the turnoff to Nayan a bit further along the road though, and were it not for the horsemen, might very well have continued on, ignoring this turnoff altogether.
I've now walked 8.5 kilometres in the hot sun, sweat pouring off me the entire way. With the confluence 2.5 kilometres due north, I turn right onto an even lonelier road, the road to Nayan.
2:20 p.m. - I reach the village of Namin, the confluence still 2.1 kilometres north. My backpack is becoming a real burden in these oppressively hot conditions, and with more climbing ahead of me, I decide to entrust it to a group of friendly villagers.
3:30 p.m. - The road to Nayan climbs to a pass, and I take my second extended rest stop since leaving Namin. From the pass, the road continues downhill in a north-westerly direction towards Nayan, but unfortunately, this is not where I am heading. The confluence is 567 metres northeast of the pass, near the top of a dauntingly steep hill.
The effects of the heat, the day's long, mostly uphill walk, insufficient sleep, and a lack of food--I haven't eaten since breakfast--all combine to take their toll, and now the steep climb before me finds me thoroughly exhausted. I am forced to stop frequently, whenever I can find a bit of shade. Several times I actually fall asleep. This cannot be good: my body is shutting down involuntarily. I am reaching the bottom of my energy reserves, but I must keep going; to come all this way and then give up just 200 metres from the confluence would be madness.
It takes me another hour to progress a further 100 metres towards the confluence, straight up, and I am now completely sapped of all energy. After yet another nap, I summon all my willpower to press on and up just a few more metres, sufficient to get within the zone for a successful visit. I am still 73 metres from the confluence, but can simply go no further.
5:00 p.m. - I take the north-south-east-west shots, plus the all important GPS photo, and then contemplate the way back down. With not an ounce of energy left in my body, I find it impossible to even stand up, so instead decide to descend much of the way by means of short, controlled slides on my backside. My clothes are filthy as a result, but I manage to conserve enough energy for the walk back along the road to Namin, which is thankfully mostly downhill.
When I finally arrive back in Namin, I am greeted with utter amazement by the crowd of villagers who have been looking after my things--I must be a truly astonishing sight!
It is late in the day, and I have already psyched myself up for an inevitable night spent in the Spartan conditions of the village, although what I really desperately want and need is a nice shower and a comfortable bed. However, luck is on my side; my arrival just happens to coincide with the imminent departure to Tianyang of one of the locals, and he offers me a lift in his truck. Tianyang is not really the right direction for me--my next confluence is to the north, Tianyang is to the south--but beggars can't be choosers, especially when they're on their last legs, and I willingly accept his kind offer.
It is dark when we arrive in Tianyang. The truck driver takes me to a modest hotel where I check in, stagger up the stairs to my room, peel off my filthy clothes, take a cold shower, and then crash until morning.
Story continues with 25°N 107°E.